Michigan man released from jail amid pandemic slain, officials say

The Detroit News

A Michigan man released last month from jail for robbery after his lawyer cited the “unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous" COVID-19 pandemic, has been slain, officials said. 

The Detroit Police Department confirmed to The Detroit News that Roosevelt Knight was found dead, possibly with burns, about 10:45 a.m. Sunday in the 2900 block of Pingree on the city's west side. 

The Livingston County Jail.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner's office determined the 23-year-old  died from multiple blunt force trauma to the head, said Charli Rose, a spokeswoman. His death was ruled a homicide, she told The News in an email.

Knight's death comes as nonviolent inmates across the country are being released over fears of the virus spreading unchecked behind bars and as one federal prosecutor expressed concerns about the releases, saying they pose a significant threat to public safety in the region. 

Knight was among several people federal authorities accused of robbing jewelers. He was charged with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, according to a 2018 indictment. Knight pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2019 to three years of probation, court records show.

According to court records, Knight was arrested in February after police stopped him in a Chevy Malibu that had been reported stolen out of Wyandotte. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Patti ordered Knight held, noting “there is probable cause to believe that multiple violations of probation have occurred.” The magistrate judge added “the defendant has failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of other persons in the community if released.”

Knight’s attorney, Andrew Densemo, sought to release his client from the Livingston County Jail, calling the pandemic “unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous," and a risk to inmates who have little ability to engage in social distancing. 

Densemo wrote that Knight did not pose a flight risk, “has suffered from bronchial asthma since early childhood,” and visitation restrictions in jail limited the ability to prepare his defense. 

Densemo did not respond to a request for comment.

Last month, as the pandemic worsened, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy ordered Knight released from custody, writing in an order that his “serious respiratory condition puts him at even greater risk” for COVID-19 infection.

Knight was released to his family and ordered to have weekly contact with probation officials. This month, Levy declined to reconsider jailing him.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, the region’s top federal law enforcement officer, has warned against a mass release of defendants or convicted inmates in the region. 

In a recent letter to the chief federal judge in Detroit, Schneider said he would "strongly urge the court to pause and consider the risk that a mass release of criminal defendants would pose to public safety right now. Judicial and law enforcement resources are already under strain, and our district suffers from more violent crime than almost any other district in the nation."